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10% Inspiration, 90% Perspiration

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So! Life, experience, and the consensus of the public have convinced you that you are in fact a very fine songwriter. There is absolutely no doubt that the tunesmith gene is snugly nestled in your DNA. You've got the great hooks, the touching lyrics, the humorous slants, the unforgettable melodies, the contagious grooves, and all the other goodies necessary for the gig. Success is practically guaranteed, right?

Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Just the fact that a person could believe such a fantasy is a sign that they have not in any way educated themselves about the process.

The journey down the yellow brick road has, in fact, just begun!

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The Numbers

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The quantity of incredibly talented songwriters, particularly in music centers such as Nashville and Los Angeles, is staggering to say the least. They are everywhere you turn. They wait on you in restaurants: they guide you through museums; they mix your margaritas in local bars. They even nix your songs in publishing offices, perhaps a little bitter that they couldn't cut the mustard themselves.

On any given night in any of the many listening rooms around these cities, you can hear them crooning their latest creations. The few who manage to enter the inner circle of the serious publishing world have put a lot of perspiration into the endeavor over and above the obvious putting of the pen to paper. They have armed themselves with an arsenal of knowledge as to how the battle is most successfully won.


The Business

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In a way it is an insult to the industry to treat it so casually.

I am reminded of a scruffy gentleman who rapped of the door of my office about ten years ago. Though he was an obviously affable chap, he was very rumpled, and clueless, to say the least. From a crumpled paper bag he handed me a cassette tape (yes, you read right) with smeared, penciled handwriting on its soiled Radio Shack label.

"Is this how you do it?" he asked me. "I just got into town."

As gently as I could, I steered him in the direction of the Nashville Songwriters Association a few blocks away, explaining that they could tell him everything he needed to know.

This fellow had written a few songs and decided that he simply needed to drop them off to get the job done. If only it was so easy!

The music business is in fact a serious business, like any other. Even if the aforementioned songwriter were carrying around an arsenal of stone cold hits, they would most likely never even get heard. His lack of professionalism in the way he presented himself was cutting him off at the pass.

Publishing and A and R staff have learned from experience that the odds of finding even a decent song from such a source is sadly nil. There simply are not enough hours in a day to justify taking the time to listen.

With the huge numbers of more polished packages waiting to be heard, they have no choice but to file such a submission in the old file 13! I have actually witnesses this very slam-dunk on several occasions! It may seem cruel, but as I said, the music business is a business. In a way, it is an insult to the industry to treat it so casually.


The Seduction

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The reality of the situation is more like 10% glamour and 90% mundane.

Like with all rather glamorous-seeming professions, it is easy to fall prey to the myths. Who couldn't wax a little poetic about lying on a blanket by a river and spilling your soul in rhyme onto a yellow legal pad? Later that day the song would be recorded by a major star and the number one party would follow, complete with champagne toasts and Grammy nods: the perfect 100% glamorous and creative day in the life of a songwriter!

The reality of the situation is more like 10% glamour and 90% mundane. Getting your creations out there takes an excellent work ethic, the hide of a rhino, the patience of Job, and the perseverance of a marathon runner. Add to that recipe a natural gift, polished till it shines, and you might achieve your dream.


The Reality

The path of a successful songwriter will probably go something more like this:

  • Learn to play an instrument.
  • Study great songs.
  • Write your first song.
  • Write more songs.
  • Perform your songs for others.
  • Write more songs.
  • Study and hone your craft.
  • Get some impartial opinions from people in the know.
  • Move to a music center and get a day job.
  • Listen to excellent writers perform.
  • Try co-writing.
  • Perform in music centers.
  • Choose a few songs and professionally demo them.
  • Play them for performing rights reps.
  • Take advice.
  • Learn the standards of the industry.
  • Learn names of industry people. Do your homework.
  • When indicated, make a publishing appointment.
  • Develop contacts.
  • Sign a publishing contract.
  • Write solo.
  • Co-write with better and better writers.
  • Get your hands on a pitch sheet.
  • Pitch your own catalog.
  • Arrive!
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Attempting to have success as a professional songwriter is a long road to hoe. There are typically countless setbacks and disappointments. Humiliation is often a side dish to a plate of crow washed down with a brew of sour grapes. It is also the ride of a lifetime where you can't wait to get up in the morning and onto the part of the day where you pursue your dream.

When I had my first bits of encouragement in Nashville, I could not sleep for fear I would lose ideas that were constantly popping into my mind. I was on fire and fire can be a very useful tool. It warms you when you're cold and burns your britches into action.

Embrace the struggle and find solace in knowing that you treasure what you really have to work for.

If you decide to really pursue this thing, go at it with all engines firing and, assuming you have some talent, give it a very long runway before you expect take off. Have a great flight!

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